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Viking Developers gearing up to create Riviera Beach waterfront marina village

After a decade of trying, some developers might have given up on redeveloping Riviera Beach’s waterfront, but not Bob Healey, 85, chairman and CEO of the family-owned Viking Developers LLC and Viking Yachts.

The Healey family recognized that waterfront land in South Florida is limited, especially a spot with optimal boating access to the Intracoastal Waterway and the Atlantic Ocean.

“Riviera Beach is a diamond in the rough,” Healey said this week as he sat at the Tiki Waterfront Sea Grill, an open-air restaurant at the Riviera Beach Marina, across from Peanut Island and south of Singer Island. “It’s all about location.”

On Tuesday, a majority of the city’s residents voted to amend the charter to allow private development at the city-owned marina. That launched a $375 million, 26-acre mixed-use development project that is expected to transform the area over the next 10 years. The city now has permission to lease municipal properties to private interests.

“The marina redevelopment will bring hundreds and eventually thousands of jobs to local residents, in addition to millions in property tax revenues,” Tony Brown, executive director of the Riviera Beach Community Redevelopment Agency, said.

“We have one of the most spectacular waterfront locations in all of South Florida, and now we can finally move forward.”

Redevelopment efforts have been stalled for years and were scaled back from earlier plans for a $2.4 billion, 400-plus acre project. Viking Yachts, founded 50 years ago in New Gretna, N.J., opened operations at the Riviera Beach Marina in 1999, and in 2005 Viking was selected as the master developer.

Groundbreaking for the $30 million first phase of the new Riviera Beach Marina Village — a public-private partnership among the city, the Riviera Beach Community Redevelopment Agency and Viking Development — is set for April 10. Private investment will total more than $336 million.

The idea is to create a destination, starting with a village-style courtyard as part of the first phase that will include a revamped Bicentennial Park and new event center, said Michael Clark, vice president of Viking Developers. He envisions a laid-back atmosphere with a permanent farmers-green market and more.

“We can’t be Clematis Street or Downtown at the Gardens. We will stay authentic to Riviera Beach,” Clark said.

Patrons of the popular Tiki restaurant might worry the redevelopment will end its run, but Clark said the restaurant will be re-built 150 feet to the north. Eventually, there will be more locally owned restaurants as well as shops and mid-priced condominium residences and perhaps office space, will be added.

From the waterfront to Avenue C, nothing will be higher than two stories, and from Avenue C to Broadway, five stories will be allowed, Clark said.

Viking Yachts, which builds 60 tournament fishing boats from 42 to 92 feet each year at its headquarters in New Jersey, has operated a service center at Riviera Beach marina since 1999. It employs 130 people with an annual $8 million payroll.

Bob Healey and his brother, Bill, 86, founded the company in 1964, after taking over a boat business known as Peterson-Viking. At the time, Bob Healey was a lawyer and real estate businessman and Bill was an iron worker.

The Healeys are well aware of the area’s beauty and wealth as well as its poverty.

“After we built this,” Healey said, referring to Viking’s facility at the marina, “we decided we have to help convert this town.”

In 2007 they contributed $5 million and launched Rivera Beach Maritime Academy, a charter high school that trains students to work in the marine industry.

Now the family business, which includes Bob’s son, Bob Jr., and Bill and his son, Patrick, is ready to get going on its newest venture.

“The key to the first phase is getting this park activated. We have a reputation we have to overcome. People have to realize it’s safe to be here,” said Bob Healey Jr.

The Healeys believe that the surrounding area, some of it blighted, will be lifted by the redevelopment, but that will take time. In recent years, they have spent $48 million purchasing scattered properties from Avenue C to Broadway. Originally, when a more massive project was talked about, the thinking was that land might be needed to relocate residents. Now the sites could still be used for affordable housing, Clark said.

The Healeys want to dispel two myths that have circulated. Critics have incorrectly stated they have not developed anything, and said that they don’t have the money.

“We have deep pockets,” Healey Sr. said. “We sold our energy company on Nov. 12, 2012, for $107 million.”

The company has done urban redevelopment such as the $47 million renovation of the 434-apartment Cherry Hill Towers in New Jersey.    It has redeveloped 10 other apartment complexes in New Jersey and Pennsylvania as well as a shopping center and industrial space in Pennsylvania.

It is also or has been engaged in marine insurance, alternative energy production, natural gas exploration and production, marine electronics and investment banking.

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